VCS Calls for Continued Defense Medical Research Funding

(Washington, June 8, 2017) – Veterans for Common Sense today joined with more than 100 organizations in calling on Congress to provide continued support for the “critical and highly successful defense health research programs” of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) directed and funded by Congress within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) budget.

medical health research programs include the Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP), a unique, nationally acclaimed program aimed at developing treatments for the complex, debilitating disease that affects as many as one-third of the veterans of the 1991 Gulf War following their exposure to combinations of military toxins.  VCS is the national leader in advocating for the GWIRP, including helping to ensure annual Congressional funding and enduring strong support among the nation’s veterans service organizations.  VCS also sponsors consumer reviewers involved in steering and advising the GWIRP.

VCS is also a strong advocate for the burn pit exposure research area within the CDMRP’s Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program.  VCS is strongly supportive of numerous other areas of key medical research funded by CDMRP, including cancers, neurological diseases, traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and many more.

Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) is a Washington, DC-based veterans education and advocacy organization.  VCS is also a leading member of the (DHRC), a membership coalition of national patient advocacy organizations, medical provider organizations, professional medical societies, and veterans advocacy groups including VCS. Veterans and other patients represented by these groups have benefited significantly from the cutting-edge medical research funded by these defense health research programs.

The full text of today’s pair of letters to House and Senate appropriators is as follows:

***

The Defense Health Research Consortium

June 8, 2017

Senator Thad Cochran                                                 Senator Richard Durbin
Chairman                                                                        Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Defense                                           Subcommittee on Defense
Committee on Appropriations                                     Committee on Appropriations
122 Senate Dirksen Building                                      113 Senate Dirksen Building
Washington, DC 20510                                              Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Cochran and Ranking Member Durbin:

The Honorable Kay Granger                                       The Honorable Peter Visclosky
Chair                                                                           Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Defense                                           Subcommittee on Defense
Committee on Appropriations                                     Committee on Appropriations
H-405 Capitol Building                                               1016 Longworth House Office Bldg
Washington, DC 20515                                              Washington, DC 20515

Dear Madame Chairman Granger and Ranking Member Visclosky:

As you begin work on the Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) Defense Appropriations bill, we write to request your continued support for the critical and highly successful defense health research programs funded through the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) at the Department of Defense (DoD).  We deeply appreciate your support in a challenging fiscal environment for these programs during the FY17 budget process.  As in previous years, you both exhibited extraordinary leadership in ensuring continuity in funding and operations for defense health research programs.

The highly innovative research portfolio supported by the CDMRP fuels scientific discovery by funding high impact research not sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other federal agencies. Many of the programs’ award mechanisms propel the exploration of revolutionary ideas and concepts, and focus on the potential of having a significant impact upon both their respective fields of research and support and treatment for members of the military.  Defense health research programs are worthy of continued federal support for the following reasons:

  • Directly relevant to DoD-prevalent conditions: The medical research programs at DoD directly impact the health and lives of the U.S. military, their families, veterans and the public. Programs provide groundbreaking research on psychological health, Gulf War Illness, spinal cord injury, and hearing and vision loss (which comprise a significant portion of current battlefield injuries). Research also focuses on infectious diseases that may threaten operational readiness and health security, and why diseases like ALS and multiple sclerosis occur at greater rates in those who have served in the military.  The DoD’s defense health research program has also funded the orthopedic research program that has resulted in new limb-sparing techniques to save injured extremities, avoid amputations, and preserve and restore the functions of injured extremities.

Equally important, this disease-specific approach includes important medical research programs related to several forms of cancer (breast, blood, colorectal, kidney, melanoma, pancreatic, brain tumors, lung, ovarian, prostate, stomach, liver and cancers related to radiation exposure) and other disorders (like neurofibromatosis and tuberous sclerosis complex) that have led to breakthroughs on nerve regeneration, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

  • Complementary – and not duplicative – of other federal research: Defense health research program grants neither duplicate nor supplant NIH or VA research efforts, but rather enhance those efforts. They fund highly innovative projects – support that is typically unavailable.  For example, programmatically related VA research funding is only available to VA employees (at least 0.625 full-time equivalent). CDMRP funds the best-qualified proposals from researchers and research teams at top research universities and medical centers.  The NIH and DoD medical research portfolios have symbiotic relationships, allowing NIH-funded basic research to serve as a foundation for ground-breaking, disorder-targeted research at DoD.  NIH and DoD program officers meet regularly to ensure collaboration and prevent duplication.
  • Cutting-edge and focused on cures: While the NIH funds primarily high-quality basic biomedical research, the defense health research programs provide essential emphasis on and support for finding innovative cures or new therapeutics for medical conditions.  For several disorders, DoD breakthroughs have led to new clinical trials, new drug products, and novel procedures that are making a difference in the everyday lives of affected patients and families.  For example, research funded by DoD led to the development of the only treatment for tuberous sclerosis complex approved by Food and Drug Administration. The ALS Research Program is supporting translational research and has developed four potential treatments for the disease, for which an effective treatment currently does not exist.
  • Agile, adaptable, and collaborative: Each of the separate programs is guided by a specific vision and mission statement, which in addition to incorporating Congressional direction, reflect rapid change in knowledge, address research gaps, and prevent overlaps.  Annual funding prevents out-year budget commitments, which in turn further enhances programmatic flexibility. Many DoD programs find (or even work to develop) and fund collaborative and consortium-based research, helping to bring unique, interdisciplinary, inter-institutional, collaborative efforts to bear on complex medical research issues unlikely to be solved though the inherent limits of individual researchers.
  • Competitive and unique peer review process: While Congress allocates funding through the annual Defense Appropriations Act to specific medical conditions, it does not direct the programs’ dollars to specific researchers.  These programs utilize an efficient multi-tiered process that includes multiple stages of peer review, including two levels of formal peer review of final proposals. Proposals are scored in a number of key areas such as scientific merit and impact for patients and the military, providing a robust comparative basis for helping accomplish the program’s mission of finding and funding the best research related to these important medical conditions.
  • Consumer review: All defense health research programs incorporate the full and equal participation of consumer reviewers at every stage of the multi-tiered review process – a novel and valuable practice in medical research funding. Consumers – people actually affected by the disease or medical condition – help ensure the program’s funded research will have the greatest impact on those who are affected.  Consumer reviewers also help inform and educate their disease advocacy communities and others.
  • Generating economic growth across the United States:  Research activities promote job growth and encourage long-term economic development through innovation.  It has been estimated that for every dollar awarded in biomedical research grants, more than $2 of additional business activity is created.  Defense health research grants are awarded to universities and institutes in every state in the country.

In short, the well-executed and efficient programs within the defense health research programs demonstrate responsible government stewardship of taxpayer dollars and benefit current and former military service members, the general patient population, and our nation’s economy.

Perhaps most importantly, DoD’s innovative approaches to funding biomedical research have led to a number of significant breakthroughs and achievements, contributing to national security and the health and welfare of U.S. Armed Forces personnel and their dependents.  Enclosed is a detailed white paper providing several examples.  Continued federal funding will only build on these successes.

Lastly, we are concerned about reports that Congress may not complete the fiscal year 2018 appropriations process and instead attempt to pass a long-term continuing resolution.  This approach would have devastating consequences for medical research, creating unnecessary instability and uncertainty in the grant solicitation, grant review, and grant making processes at DoD.  This will also delay the ability of DoD to most effectively convene programmatic panels to identify and implement programmatic changes, effectively convene peer-review panels to provide thorough review of grant applications, and conduct appropriate negotiations to ultimately award FY18 grants.

The undersigned respectfully request your support for FY 2018 funding of all programs within the defense health research programs.

Sincerely,

AcademyHealth
Action to Cure Kidney Cancer
The ALS Association
American Brain Tumor Association
American Gastroenterological Association
American Lung Association
American Psychological Association
American Thoracic Society
American Urological Association
Aplastic Anemia & MDS International Foundation
Autism Speaks
Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network
Children’s Heart Foundation
Children’s Tumor Foundation
Coalition for National Security Research (CNSR)
Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation
Cure HHT
Debbie’s Dream Foundation: Curing Stomach Cancer
debra of America
Digestive Disease National Coalition
Dystonia Medical Research Foundation
Epilepsy Foundation
Fight Colorectal Cancer
FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered
Foundation to Eradicate Duchenne
GBS|CIDP Foundation International
Hepatitis Foundation International
Indiana University
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders
Interstitial Cystitis Association
Johns Hopkins University
LAM Foundation
Littlest Tumor Foundation
Living Beyond Breast Cancer
Lung Cancer Alliance
Lupus Foundation of America
Lupus Research Alliance
Lymphoma Research Foundation
Malecare Cancer Support
The Marfan Foundation
Melanoma Research Foundation
The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research
National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research
National Autism Association
National Multiple Sclerosis Society
NephCure Kidney International
Neurofibromatosis Midwest
Neurofibromatosis Network
Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD)
Penn State University
Pulmonary Hypertension Association
Scleroderma Foundation
Susan G. Komen
Texas NF Foundation
Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance
University of Central Florida
University of Kansas
University of Pittsburgh
U.S. Hereditary Angioedema Association
Us TOO International Prostate Cancer Education & Support
Veterans for Common Sense
The Veterans Health Council
Vietnam Veterans of America
Weill Cornell Medicine
ZERO – The End of Prostate Cancer

Enclosure

cc: Members, Senate Appropriations Committee

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